Friday, August 25, 2006

State Dept. Official Faces Bribe Charge

WASHINGTON - A State Department official accepted free flights to Las Vegas with exotic dancers, expensive meals, hotel rooms in New York and other bribes to speed up the visa process for a jewelry company, federal prosecutors said Friday.

Michael John O'Keefe, the deputy nonimmigrant visa chief at the U.S. Consulate in Toronto, was indicted on bribery and conspiracy charges Friday. Sunil Agrawal, a native of India and the chief executive of New York-based STS Jewels, was also charged.

Agrawal sent O'Keefe the names of employees who needed visas to work for her company, prosecutors said, and O'Keefe scheduled them outside the normal visa process.

O'Keefe did his best to make sure he conducted the interviews and awarded 21 visas to STS employees, according to an indictment unsealed Friday.

Since the terrorist attacks of 2001, authorities have worked to tighten controls over nonimmigrant visas like those granted to students, tourists and workers.

Friday's indictment, however, describes a scheme in which O'Keefe fast-tracked applications and approved some that had been rejected, even when a subordinate noted that terrorists use jewelry to raise money.

In return, Agrawal allegedly plied O'Keefe with gifts.

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